RCMP kept in dark about Air India

March 11, 2011
Mar 07 2011 VANCOUVER - New efforts to find two men who checked in bags with explosives at the Vancouver airport on June 22, 1985, could lead to more arrests in the 26-year-old Air India case, says a soon-to-be-retired senior Mountie.

Mar 07 2011

VANCOUVER - New efforts to find two men who checked in bags with explosives at the Vancouver airport on June 22, 1985, could lead to more arrests in the 26-year-old Air India case, says a soon-to-be-retired senior Mountie.

Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, who retires next week after almost 40 years in the RCMP, said he was optimistic the team of more than 20 officers who continue to work full-time on the notorious case will find answers to the deadliest unsolved crime in Canadian history.

Bass said he said he anticipates that as time goes by, some people who know about the plot will no longer be afraid to speak out.

"Circumstances change over time," Bass told the Globe and Mail in a wide-ranging interview about the suspects and the investigation.

"Someone knows something but is afraid to come forward because they are afraid what another individual may do. But if that individual dies, it changes the whole complexity. These things happen over a long period of time in cases like this."

Bass, 59, also spoke publicly for the first time about his disappointment with the inquiry into the investigation of the Air India bombing.

Key RCMP investigators in the Air India case were not told for at least four months after the explosions that CSIS had been wiretapping the phone conversations of Sikh fundamentalist leader Talwinder Singh Parmar, says Bass.

Bass said some top RCMP investigators on the Air India task force were not aware of information that CSIS had on Mr. Parmar in the days after the bomb explosions.

CSIS agents had wiretapped Mr. Parmar’s phone conversations and had him under surveillance for weeks before the blast. Also, they had followed Mr. Parmar into the woods and watched him test a homemade bomb three weeks before the blast.

But CSIS did not share their information or their analysis with the RCMP at that time, said Deputy Commissioner Bass, a former team commander of the task force. As a result, Mr. Parmar was not among the targets in the RCMP’s initial submissions for wiretap authorizations. “We had people on the [investigative] team who did not know [Mr.] Parmar was a target until October or November of 1985,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Bass’s comments shed new light on the tempestuous time after the twin bomb explosions on opposite sides of the world on June 23, 1985 that killed 331 people. For years after the bombings, CSIS has been in the spotlight for erasing wiretap tapes that could have incriminated suspects, and brought the terrorists to justice but it was not known how much in the dark the RCMP really were.

The federal inquiry into the investigation of the Air India bombing, in its report last year, concluded that the RCMP was ill-prepared and poorly trained. Its terrorist/extremist unit had limited knowledge of the players and no meaningful access to sources in the community. The RCMP ignored information about the suspects in their own files and did not involve Vancouver police, who were familiar with Sikh extremists in the city, the inquiry says.

Deputy Commissioner Bass flatly contradicted the inquiry’s findings. Information that would have identified the suspects was not in RCMP files, he said. “It was at some point,” he added, but not for many months after the bombing.

During the interview, Deputy Commissioner Bass, who was in charge of the Air India task force from 1995 to 2000, also spoke about some of the suspects.

Some are dead, such as Mr. Parmar and Hardial Singh Johal, he said. Police identified others of interest in India who are also dead, he said without elaborating.

Mr. Parmar, a Sikh fundamentalist leader fighting for an independent country in India called Khalistan, was arrested on Nov. 6, 1985 but was released without charges being laid. He told the media that police accused him of being the mastermind behind the Air India bombings.

He was arrested for a second time in Ontario in June, 1986, and charged with playing a role in a plot to blow up buildings in India. He was found not guilty the following year after Crown prosecutors refused to disclose information used in a wiretap application. He went into hiding in 1988 and was killed in India four years later.

The RCMP were in the dark about how Mr. Parmar died for several years after his death. Initially, police accepted the conclusion of an inquiry in India that Mr. Parmar had been killed in a shootout, Deputy Commissioner Bass said. They found out some time later that he had been captured and tortured, he said. RCMP did not discover until 1997 that Mr. Parmar allegedly made a confession before his death.

Deputy Commissioner Bass said the confession, which was obtained after torture, was unreliable. Also, the RCMP saw that India did not attach much significance to Mr. Parmar’s statements. “India had put Air India behind them, that essentially was what we were told,” he said.

(Globe and Mail)

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